Jack of Spades by Joyce Carol Oates Published by The Mysterious Press on May 4, 2015
RATING: 5 STARS
Andrew J. Rush, “The Gentleman’s Stephen King”, a successful thriller author, secretly writes pulp detective novels, under the pseudonym, Jack of Spades. The writing of Jack and Andrew Rush are polar opposites. Jack’s books are violent pulp reads, while Andrew is fawned over as the “Gentlemen’s Stephen King.” Not only does he use Jack of Spades to hide from the public, he also hides this secret from his wife and children.
Initially, Jack works to Andrew’s advantage, protecting his public image by providing a healthy outlet, until he’s accused of plagiarizing a woman’s work in progress. This crack in Andrew’s persona reveals his much darker side – the Jack of Spades side – who hijacks his personality, revealing long held resentments, guilt, and very dark secrets.
At first, Andrew understands his contrary thoughts and is able to make good decisions. As time goes on, he questions his thoughts. This leaves the reader to ask – Is the creation of Jack a part of the author’s mad genius or has he lost his mind?
I really enjoyed this short, fast paced psychological thriller. Oates’s tight, focused writing kept me guessing as to what was going to happen around each corner. Highly recommended for those who enjoy psychological thriller or horror stories.
In my last post, I reviewed The Haunting of Hill House (THOHH) by Shirley Jackson. Shirley is described as a psychological thriller, yet it’s really more of an homage, a fictionalized account of Shirley Jackson and her Professor husband Stanley about their time spent at their home in Vermont. The story has a dreamy, sleepy feel that fluctuates between biography and suspenseful fiction. Rose, a young pregnant wife from a difficult background and her Professor husband drive to Bennington College so he can work and finish his dissertation while living with his mentor Stanley Hyman and his wife Shirley Jackson. Jackson is an established writer and Rose admires her and becomes enmeshed with Jackson’s dynamics of the Hyman’s dysfunctional marriage. As time goes on, the troubled Hyman marriage is filled with secrets and Rose’s life begins to mirror theirs.
I enjoyed how the author explored the themes of jealousy, obsession, scandal and love. Yet certain parts of the book left me frustrated. Merrell builds up tension throughout the story by creating an impeding sense of doom, yet the suspense doesn’t lead anywhere and the outcome is never revealed. For example, Rose becomes intrigued with the story of a young missing college student, but the outcome isn’t revealed to the reader. The premise of the story is unbelievable. Why would a couple with four children take in two strangers? As for the character development, I felt a palpable connection to Shirley, but didn’t feel an emotional connection to Rose. Since Rose is a new mother, her constant drowsiness initially makes sense, yet the idea that the house is “alive and speaking” to Rose was too reminiscent of – you guessed it- THOHH.
Perhaps I’d view the book in a more positive light, if I wasn’t already exposed to Shirley Jackson’s writing. I don’t think Shirley Jackson would feel happy about the way she’s depicted in this book. Although Shirley has all of the merits of a well written interesting book, since I’ve already read The House on Haunted Hill, my thoughts of Shirley are already skewed. There are just too many similarities between the books.
RATING: 3.5 stars
** An advanced review copy of Shirley was provided by Netgalley for a fair and honest review.
“The Paris Lawyer” by Sylvie Granotier is about Catherine, a young Parisian lawyer who delves into the murder of her mother while preparing to defend a rural woman accused of murdering her husband. Written from a third person’s point of view, mostly in thoughts and flashbacks of Catherine and other characters, confused me. Several times I needed to re-read a section to decide if the author was writing about the present or the past and which character was the focus of the story. Considering the book was originally written in French, along with Granotier writing a “story within a story” with multiple POV’s, didn’t add to my reading experience.
“The Paris Lawyer” won the 2011 Grand Prix Sang d’ecre. Perhaps the subtleties of language became lost in translation, because I didn’t enjoy this book. If you liked the alternating POV’s used in “Gone Girl”, then you’ll appreciate this book.
An ARC was provided to me through Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
RATING: 3 STARS